Taiwan: Visiting Zhinan Temple and Riding the Maokong Gondola

Last week, I spent four days in Taiwan with my mom. I’d say it’s one of my most favorite destinations to date (not that I haven’t traveled a lot), because we were able to see, taste, and experience so much on a fairly affordable budget!

Our first stop after a couple of hours’ rest at our hotel was the Maokong Gondola and Zhinan Temple. It is a Taoist temple found on the slopes of Houshan (Monkey Mountain) and is very near the Taipei Zoo. It is said that Lü Dongbin, the temple’s main deity, has the power to break couples up, so that lovers must never visit the temple together. Fortunately that wasn’t a concern for me and my mom :p

It is free to enter the Temple complex and you can spend up to an hour there, walking through the temples and gardens and breathing in the fresh, almost holy air. It was early afternoon when we went and there were hardly any visitors, which added to the surreal and mystical feel of the place! I also heard that the sunset view there was majestic.

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To get to Zhinan temple we rode the Maokong Gondola, which is an itinerary item in itself. For about 20 minutes you get uninhibited views of the mountain side and the city. The Taipei 101 in particular was very easy to spot from the distance.

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To make the experience more interesting you can opt to line up for the Crystal / Eye of Maokong Gondolas, which have fiber glass floors!

How to get to Maokong Gondola / Zhinan Temple:

  • From any MRT station, ride to Taipei Zoo Station (Brown Line). You might have to switch platforms, but Taiwan’s MRT system is pretty easy to memorize and navigate.
  • Get off the station and walk towards the Maokong Gondola station. You’ll spot it right away.
  • You can use your EasyCard (for trains and buses) to pay for your Gondola ride. The ride to Zhinan is 70 NTD and 100 NTD going back to Taipei Zoo station

Tips:

  • On the way up, you can opt to stop at the last station (Maokong) and dine at the teahouses there. There are also bus tours there that can take you to some spots but they weren’t available when we went. At Zhinan temple station there is a cafe as well.
  • The lines for the crystal gondola can get long, so you can opt to ride a regular one going up, and the crystal one going down. 🙂
  • When wind conditions are very strong, gondola operations are stopped. Voice advisories on trains headed for Taipei Zoo will inform people if this is the case, so pay attention!
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Taiwan, July 2018

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This trip was supposed to be our official Honeymoon, but Ranie recently got a new job and very quickly had to fly out to Serbia for two months. So I ended up doing a “Mamamoon” w/ my newly retired Momma!

We had a blast enjoying a mix of old and new culture experiences + really yummy street food. 🍢🍡🍤 It was so easy to get around thanks to hyperconnected, on time train systems. We met so many kind people as well, especially in Taichung, where people went out of their way to be helpful even if we couldn’t speak their language nor can they speak ours or English!

We spent four days enjoying Taiwan’s local culture and very delicious food. I’ll be posting more about our stops soon! In the meantime, you can check out the visual diary I created on Facebook! Check it out below.

Our itinerary:

DAY 1

  • Maokong Gondola
  • Zhinan Temple
  • Ximending Part I

DAY 2

  • Yehliu Geopark
  • Shifen Rail
  • Jiufen Old Street

DAY 3

  • Chungse Flower Farm
  • Rainbow Village
  • Taipei 101 Observatory

DAY 4

  • Chiang Kai Shek
  • Yongkang Street
  • Ximending Part II

Pamulaklakin Forest Trail, Subic

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We’ve been married for two weeks now, and caught up in a whirlwind of work and family events. We hadn’t really planned on having a honeymoon — it was out of our budget, and we had several trips booked for Q3 anyway — but middle of last week we just agreed that we both needed to get away, just a bit, from all the craziness. So we did some last-minute hunting and decided to take a bus to Subic, Zambales, to pause, breathe, and kick off being husband and wife properly.

Our plan was just to rest and sleep a lot, but somehow on Sunday morning we found ourselves taking a mini-tour within the Pamulaklakin Forest Trail, an ancestral domain managed by an Aeta community. There are half-day and hour-long tours; I highly recommend the latter as a side trip if you’re in town for a convention or a family outing. Our guide gave us a crash course on how they utilized the trees and plants for various household purposes, and even did a demo of how a single bamboo can be used to cook and serve a meal for two. After the quick hike we spent some time relaxing in the cool stream.

And so it begins… 

Subic Beach, Sorsogon

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If only it didn’t entail a long drive across Bicol, I figure Sorsogon’s Subic Beach would be more popular among tourists — its white sands and turqouise waters rival that of Caramoan, Boracay et al. We were fortunate to enjoy its cool, quiet beauty on a Good Friday, with great friends. At sunset its pale sand takes on a pinkish hue, thanks to a few red coral particles.

The beach has a local thriving tourist industry made up of store and hut owners, even masseuses and craftspeople. but I should mention that it’s is in danger of being spoiled as its seems ill-equipped to handle large drove of tourists just yet. Sewage and garbage management issues aren’t seen in mine (and other visitors’) photos, but they are there, especially on peak seasons like Lent. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth the trip.

Tagiti Falls, Consosep

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There’s more to Bicol than mountains and the great Mayon. In Camarines Sur, Tagiti Falls is a must-visit destination for its proximity to other attractions such as Deer Farm and Hibiscus Garden. From the main hi way there are signs (or friendly locals) who will point you towards the start of the pretty trail. Be prepared to pay around P15-20 / head for local fees. The water was icy-cool even in the midst of Lent season’s scorching summer heat. It’s not plagued by long tourist groups so we spent a good half hour just sitting on the rocks, taking in all the nature and enjoying the almost-holy quiet.

All photos taken with a Huawei P10 and post processed using the VSCO App

Bicol Photo Diary: Panoramic views and the Deer Farm in Ocampo

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My visits to Bicol have always been very chill and relaxed, but last week we had quite a packed itinerary, thanks to fortuitous circumstances and some spur-of-the-moment planning! We went to several towns and this is the first of a series of posts about my longest (and most event-filled) visit to Ranie’s hometown — so far 🙂

I still spent Monday and Tuesday primarily at work, hogging a couple of couches in some neigborhood coffee shops. But on Wednesday afternoon, we piled into a couple of cars and drove through Ocampo’s scenic highways to visit the Deer Farm — who knew?! After rows and rows of rice paddies and small houses, there the deer were — serenely napping in groups unless they were feeling hungry for sweet potatoes. Entrance to this sanctuary is free, and it’s a great stopover especially if you’re with children.

It was the first of several newfound discoveries about Bicol on this trip. The weather was cool and the rolling hills were begging for selfies and then some. Ranie’s friend, Francia, happens to be a wedding photographer / videographer and she wasted no time in setting us up in various layouts for a very late prenup / very early honeymoon shoot — we were more than willing to pose anyway.

Before heading to our next destination (to be revealed in the next post), we drove through a highway that thoroughly resembles Tagaytay, except that there is nothing on each side of the road except tall grass and overlooking views of more rice paddies and coconut farms. We stopped at the side of the road to have lunch, and I was surprised with how cool the weather was, high up on those hills!

I must admit that though I’ve always known Bicol to be a beautiful, wide region, I’ve never truly understood or appreciated its vastness until last week. I got to experience both everyday life and “adventure life” and felt so good throughout that the idea of staying here for longer periods didn’t seem too intimidating or impossible. Now if only 4G were more available everywhere…

Two days, four towns: How barong shopping in Lumban turned into a Laguna mini-tour

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We were in four Laguna towns Friday night and yesterday: Los Baños, Lumban, Pagsanjan, and Sta. Cruz. I guess this is our version of a pre-Valentine’s Day date?

In Elbi, handed over invitations to our former teachers/sponsors. Then we met up with some orgmates.

My first glimpse of Freedom Park in at least two years. My elbi days still count among the happiest memories of my life.
Ranie and I met for the first time in this classroom, for a SPCM class, 12 years ago. We sat in the back, were trying out for the debate org at the same time, and partners for our final project. But we didn’t start dating until more than a year after!
Had dinner with a few resident members of the debate society + fellow alumni Kyla (in purple). We caught up on a lot of stories over beer afterwards.

In Lumban we bought Ranie’s barong. He’s always been dead set on getting an authentic one, straight from the source. It was perfect timing as he had a 2-day workshop in UPLB (and I’m working remote / pretty much anywhere these days).

Some updated notes on getting a barong in Lumban: From Los Baños, Lumban is only 90 minutes away via the Sta. Cruz bus route, then a 10-15 minute jeep ride. After the 2nd bridge, you’ll start seeing barong and gown shops left and right of the National Highway.

I found sources online that the good destinations are in Rizal Street, near the city market / plaza. As for us, all Ranie had in mind were specifics of what he wanted (piña, intricate but not too fancy embroidery). We actually found it in the first shop we entered, called Magano. Ranie usually struggles w/ formal wear in his usual size (M) because the sleeves always end up being a tad short, but Magano had a M-L size (Medium-Large) that fit him perfectly. I also loved his choice as the detail was beautiful yet subtle — very pogi. 🙂 The barong only cost P3000 – that’s 50 to 70% cheaper than a ready made barong in Kultura or Rustan’s. It also came with 2 free inner shirts already!

To be fair, we did check out a couple more stores after our purchase, but Ranie was already v. happy with his barong. In one shop, I actually saw a work in progress of a barong being embroidered w/ the colado style, but then got too shy to snap a photo because we weren’t buying anything. It’s amazing that handmade traditions still find a way to thrive in this day and age.

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My soon-to-be groom 🙂 This was one of the initial options, but Ranie’s final choice had a different color and design.

Since we wrapped up our errand pretty quickly, we did a bit of walking around Lumban’s streets. Lumban feels so quiet compared to other Laguna towns I’ve been to.

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Posing among some columns 🙂
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San Sebastian stone church, Lumban

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Bumbungan River, which empties out onto Laguna de Bay
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Ranie doing a bit of posing as well. 🙂

After an hour or so, we took another jeep to Pagsanjan, where we ate a late lunch at Calle Arko. The food was super affordable and pretty much good. The highlight of our meal was pako (fern) salad w/ white cheese and sweet vinagrette. Such a simple yet amazing dish.

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Pako salad! So easy to make, yet so delicious.
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The shop’s owner collects beautiful tea pots such as this one
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Contemporary artwork complementing the antique decor and furniture. A bit gaudy, but charming nonetheless.

We asked the waiter where to get pako (my mom loves it). They told us they get it in Sta. Cruz market. Perfect, we thought, that’s where we’ll take the bus. So right after the meal, we took yet another jeep to Sta. Cruz market. But it was so hard to find pako in the afternoon — all the stalls have run out! We did find two last bundles with a street vendor. I grabbed it all.

Now, my body is aching all over and I seem to be nursing a slight fever. After two months of remote work + a couple of weeks of baby sitting in between, I am… exhausted. Funny because I left my previous job to be less so!

There is so much that needs to be done. Both in work and for personal life. I wish I could feel more steady, to appreciate the options and privileges I have and to maximize them so that I don’t slip into an overwhelmed state again.

For today I’ll try to rest. These photos will be a reminder of why I’m doing all of this, what it allows me to do, and why it’s worth it.

Rare Birds in Bintan!

What a way to start 2018! Spent last week in the beautiful island of Bintan in Indonesia  with my new officemates — though it’s weird to call them that since we live thousands of miles from each other and coordinate daily through Slack and Zoom.

Continue reading “Rare Birds in Bintan!”

San Juan

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There’s more the Surftown than surfing. During our last weekend there, we also made side trips to Ma Cho Temple, the plaza pagoda, and had the famous Ilokano halo halo.

Surftown Sidetrip

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48 hours of pure, stress-free magic ❤

Worked on our goofys and paddles too (will share once we actually get the hang of it).